Breaking chains

enjoy managing change," says Francis N’Jie, centre manager at Aldine
House, a secure centre in Sheffield. And a good thing, too. He has certainly
had his work cut out to revitalise a service offered by a unit that was in
danger of failing.

in April 1997, this local authority secure unit provides residential care for
up to eight children, boys and girls. It does not, as you might expect, only
take young offenders or alleged offenders on remand, it also takes children
being looked after who may abscond or who are likely to harm themselves or

House is part of what the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales calls
"the secure estate" which also includes the young offenders
institutions run by the prison service. One YJB aim is to cut re-offending, so
the aim of secure units is to re-educate and offer damaged and troubled young
people a chance for a fresh start.

care regime worried N’Jie. It is reform not uniform that inspires him.
"We’re not a prison," he says. "I want the right balance between
care and security."

of the inherited practices baffled him. Why, he asked, did the young people
have to eat off plastic plates? "None of the staff could recall an
incident that made ordinary plates a security risk." Similarly, the
protective cover across the communal television was removed. "Also, the
young people used to be locked in their rooms for half an hour after school,
supposedly to do their home work. It would be the last thing they would want to
do after spending six hours in lessons. Turns out it was more for the benefit
of staff. So we stopped that," he smiles.

more human regime favoured by N’Jie – good behaviour is rewarded with extra
privileges – is in tune with the government belief that time spent in custody
should be "constructive, well-supervised and humane". A more
streamlined management structure welded to a clearer vision and sense of
purpose has seen staff respond superbly.

nor do the changes compromise security. The Social Services Inspectorate
reported that "young people were well looked after in a care environment
that was both supportive and well-ordered." An example of this is the
two-way call system. If a young person buzzes for help, then staff do not reply
through the intercom. "They must go and speak to the person. They talk to
humans not machines," says N’Jie. "And anyone who doesn’t believe in
that can go get a long chain and a uniform."

is the key to better life chances. But the service in Aldine House, contracted
out to a local school, was floundering. The contract was terminated and N’Jie
set about appointing Aldine’s own teaching staff. During this process there was
a lot of turmoil and confusion with an over-reliance on agency staff.
Similarly, some of the centre’s other staff, unhappy with the change of
direction, also left.

the young people played a big role in the new staff appointments. Applicants
spent a day at the centre with the young people who also interviewed them using
their own prepared questions. Any candidate receiving a thumbs-down did not
progress to the formal interviews on the second day.

new staff all benefited from a new, intensive three-week induction course,
complete with an honourable commitment not to pull them into action until the
induction is completed. Now fully staffed, the future looks promising.

past 18 months," N’Jie says, "has been a mixture of the challenging,
difficult, rewarding, confusing and exhilarating." And has clearly been
worth it, as the centre was awarded its first three-year licence on 30 October


Managing change at Aldine House secure centre.

Centre manager, deputy manager, four assistant managers, 17 FTE residential
social workers, three night care assistants, and eight support staff.

Children and young people

The unit was in danger of losing its licence to operate.

Annual budget of £1.4m. The centre charges between £3,300 and £3,500 per child
per week (compared with £400-£600 charged by young offenders’ institutions).


For more information contact Francis N’Jie on 0114 262 11600

Copies available of Aldine House business and development plan

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.